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Published: November 23rd 2015
Found at last, La Ciudad Perdida
Torrential rain, river rapids, mosquito swarms, tarantula attacks and illness couldn't stop us from reaching our destination.
My last blog ended on a Sunday night in the delightful port of Santa Marta, meeting up with our friends Laurie and Carole for drink at sunset in Santa Marta’s one good beach bar. As we celebrated being on holiday with a nice cool beer our thoughts turned to the next five days ahead.
When originally planning our trip, Ian and I had discounted the five day trek to the Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) but then our good friend Nicola mentioned it and how the rest of them were going to take the five day hike. I do enjoy a good walk on occasion and after hearing discussions about the hike, I suffered from what I believe the yoof of today call FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and insisted we went along with the rest.
Originally six of us were going to trek but sadly due to post-ski broken leg complications the original instigators, Nicola and Richard were under doctor’s orders not to take a five day hike through tropical jungle terrain and so had to leave us to our destiny while they stayed in some fincas in coffee country. At this point we were the ones feeling
No turning back...
The drive up to the start of the five day hike was scary enough.
Photo Courtesy of Ian Townsend
sorry for them as they were going to be missing out on our exciting adventure…
Monday morning and we liaised at the office of the tour company in Santa Marta ready for our stroll in the woods. Transferring our needs for the next five days into smaller backpacks which we had to carry ourselves, we left our big packs in the office and headed out with the rest of our tour group to the awaiting 4x4s ready to set off into the Sierra Nevada in search of Ciudad Perdida.
Ciudad Perdida is one of the largest pre-Colombian archaeological sites in the Americas and was only re-discovered in 1972. The city dates from the 7th century and when the stone steps were found and the city discovered the treasure hunters named it ‘Green Hell’ due to the effort it took to reach it. Thankfully I had not read this snippet of information before I left as I didn’t fancy scaring myself too much before we got there. The site was once a major settlement with 2000-4000 inhabitants and was known as Tayrona by the indigenous population. It is at an altitude of 950-1330m and has 169 terraces cut into
Into the wild
The map at the start of the trail, only 46km or so over five days, I thought it was going to be easy...
the mountain side and you have to climb 1200 steps to reach it. Once the Spanish arrived the city was partially abandoned even though the local tribes apparently still knew of its existence.
Another fact not to have known before the trip was that a group of tourists were kidnapped on the trek in 2003, however they all survived and the Government have installed lots of soldiers en route to protect today’s happy trekkers, so don’t worry too much.
Our adventure began with a two hour drive to the starting point of the trek at El Mamey. The first hour was fine although I was a bit squished in the front of the 4x4 without a seat belt, opps, the next hour got a bit more scary as we went off road and climbed up for an hour along some steep roads, all good for getting the adrenaline pumping. Once we reached our destination it seems it was then just time for some lunch as we got acquainted with the rest of our group and our guides. As per usual, lunch was rice, plantain and some meat, fuel for the trek to come no doubt. Finally it was time
After my experiences on a mule in Peru, I was sticking to walking although one member of our trekking group was so ill, he had to be taken out of the jungle on one...
to leave and our guide (sadly I’ve forgotten his name) rallied the group and off we headed.
The hike to the city and back is only 46.6km and spread over five days, I thought it was certainly going to be doable, especially as I’d spent half the summer doing military fitness on the local common, I was ready for this! The first 20 minutes were a pleasant stroll through the local village and then our first river crossing through some shaded woods, nice, bring it on Lost City.
Then things suddenly got real, the trees thinned and the path started to climb and clearly I wasn’t ready for the heat and humidity, duh, why didn’t I think of this?? As we set off just after lunch, the heat of the day was pretty intense and once we cleared the woods the path became a steep climb up for two hours in the blistering sun. Of course the rest of our group were rather young and sprightly so we soon formed the rear guard (well apart from one other guy who was even slower than us) as we trudged up the hill. After a tough couple of hours we
The descendants of the Tayrona people whom once populated the area.
reached the rest stop at the top of the hill where fresh watermelon was handed out to those on the hike, so refreshing. By this point we were pretty much in the state of disrepair we were going to be in for the rest of the trip, hot, sweaty, dirty and of course my hair had entered into a whole new world of frizz, looking pretty!
After a much needed rest we all then headed on for another hour or so, thankfully on the flat and then a large downhill stretch to the first camp at Cabana Adan, 7.6km from the starting point. The scenery was very pretty, the Lost City is in the Sierra Nevada mountain range which is the world’s highest coastal mountain range, reaching 5700m just 26 miles from the coast. We were still in the foothills but the jungle covered hills made spectacular viewing, not that I was noticing the scenery much in the first couple of hours up, mostly looking at my dusty feet.
The joy of the last hour or so downhill was tempered a bit as we realised that on the way back we would get to enjoy an hour or
Back of the pack
After about half an hour we realised that we were going to spend much of the hike at the back of the group...
so climbing back up the hill, hmm, best put that out of your mind for a few days. Finally we entered the camp which was to be our home for the night, found our bunks and after a quick changed headed off to the swimming hole with the rest of the trekkers for a most welcome dip in the cool waters.
I wasn’t brave enough to jump the couple of meters off the rocks into the pool, but lots of people were (or was that just stupid?), still it was great after a very sweaty afternoon to cool off. Being close to the equator it decided to get dark very quickly and this being the jungle, electricity was at a premium so we swiftly headed back as dusk came and changed into some non-damp clothes for the night. This was the most delightful part of the day, walking clothes got very sweaty very quickly and as it was so humid, unless you put something in direct sunlight, nothing was going to get dry. It is an absolute must to keep one set of clothes dry and safely tucked away in a plastic bag to change into at night otherwise
Don't be fooled
It was a lot hotter and steeper than it looks.
you will be rather damp and miserable for the entire trip (and other top tips: don’t forget to pack loo roll and lots of packets of re-hydration salts, they are magic in such conditions). Once we were all nice and dry it was time for dinner, which not surprisingly was fish, rice and plantain, then since there wasn’t a great deal to do in the dark we headed to our bunks ready for a good night’s sleep.
Day two and we were woken at the crack of dawn for breakfast, not a bad breakfast but the coffee was like rocket fuel, just the trick. Sadly I had to then put my walking gear back on which was rather unpleasant as everything was still rather damp. Our guide was keen for us to set off early before all the other tours as we had a long day’s walking ahead (14.7 km in total: 8.1 km in the morning and 6.6 km in the afternoon) and the place where everyone was going to stay that night had limited bunks and if we didn’t get there early enough it would be hammocks for us.
The first hour or so took us
My knapsack on my back
I look like a happy wanderer here but tough times were ahead.
Val-da-ri - Val-dar-ra!
Photo Courtesy of Ian Townsend
up hill for an hour or so through some coffee plantations and farmland. Fueled by the exceptionally strong coffee at breakfast I managed to keep pace with the faster people for most of the first leg to the first fruit stop, I was feeling good. Of course as we carried on it got hotter again and soon I started to revert to my normal pace. We headed down hill again for a bit and then passed through a village of the local Kogi people called Mutanshi, finally reaching camp 2 (Casa Gabriel Sanchez) where we would have lunch but not stay the night at until night three. At camp 2 they had a rather nice swimming area in the river and everyone enjoyed a dip before lunch, just the trick as it had got rather hot and humid once again.
Setting off after lunch as we walked alongside the Buritaca River for a while and our group had its first casualty as one guy fell and gashed his leg, luckily for the group we had a couple of doctors present and so they whipped out their suture kit and stitched him up, field medicine in action. We crossed a
Sleeping with the mules
Finally we arrived at the first camp, Cabana Adan, for a much needed swim and rest
bridge and then, groan, the path went up hill once more, whoop..
We were trekking in the rainy season and usually by about 2pm the skies start to cloud over and the rain often then starts. After a bit of a struggle up the hill post lunch, we caught up with our group at the next rest stop, binged on the magic combination of Gatorade and bananas for energy and rested for a while. The rain then began and our guide was looking rather nervous and insisted we all leave just as the rain became torrential. Personally at this point I was sick of the heat and the cooling rains were a welcome relief and I was feeling a lot more energetic in the rain. Of course the rain got heavier and the paths turned to mud (if you have ever seen the film ‘Romancing the Stone’ they capture the Colombian jungle rain well in that one), still undeterred I was enjoying my walk immensely at that point. I’m not so sure everyone else was as enthusiastic as me, but even as my boots filled up with rain I was happy in the mud. After a couple of hours
Bath time at Cabana Adan
The swimming hole at the first camp, a welcome sight after the heat, but watch out for the nippy fish.
Photo Courtesy of Ian Townsend
walking we came alongside the river banks and were struck by how rather rapid and full the river was looking now, it was a raging torrent after a couple of hours of rain. We knew we couldn’t be too far away from the next camp and the thought of changing into those dry clothes was rather nice. Finally the path lead down to the river bank and we spotted our guide and a few of our group up ahead, great, we must be close!
Oh how wrong we were, so wrong… no one had mentioned that we needed to wade across the Buritaca River before the next camp and unfortunately for us, the river was running wild and high. Never fear though, these Colombians always have back up plan, don’t they?
Well yes, they did, however the backup plan was the ‘Cage of Death’ as we liked to call it. The Cage of Death was a rather ramshackle cable car strung across the river. Half the group had already braved the cage of death and it looked like we were going to have to face our fears and go across ourselves. I had resolved myself to my fate
when it became clear that there was another problem to deal with, one of the pulleys had broken and the cage of death was surviving on one working pulley and one bolt which had been slowly been worn away on the metal cable each time someone went across. Our guides were not looking best pleased and decided only one more person could go across, by this point other tour groups had caught us up and the river bank was becoming more crowded, there was no way the Cage of Death was going to be able to get the rest of the people across. In a moment of madness Carole hoped on the Cage of Death (she’s rather light) and was the last person allowed across the river, so our little team was now split up and stranded on either side of a raging torrent.
Thankfully the rain had stopped and the guides were all conspiring and trying to work out how to get us to camp and decided the best course of action was to wait an hour for the river to drop and string a rope across the river so we could all wade over, great. So we
Early morning mist
Leaving the first camp just after dawn, the heat of the day not having yet kicked in the walk was quite enjoyable
Photo Courtesy of Ian Townsend
sat and waited, as we were all soaked it wasn’t very pleasant and I was starting to get a little cold and nervous. My only thought was that Carole will go to camp and save us some beds for the night so we could avoid sleeping in hammocks, Carole won’t let us down I thought. The river level did drop about a metre in an hour however the river was still looking rather frightening. The guides clearly thought it was time to start crossing as they retrieved the rope from the Cage of Death pulley system and stretched it across the river. Our guide was only about my height and looked very much like he might get washed away as he ventured out into the water, thankfully he was an old pro at this and kept his balance and made it across. A few more guides passed to and fro, a few nearly losing their grip but after a bit more waiting they seemed to think the time was right. A few bags were taken across by the guides, mine being one of them and then the first couple of people were taken across, terrifying but thankfully they all got
A much needed swim
Pre-lunch at the second camp on the trail (Casa Gabriel Sanchez), cooling down after the morning's exertions, sadly we still had an afternoon's walking ahead..
Photo Courtesy of Ian Townsend
Then my number came up, our guide decided it was my turn to face my watery demons, oh mother, you would not have wanted to watch this. Led into the cold waters my guide placed both my hands on the rope and he and another guide walked me out into the flow and slowly I edged my way across the river. The strength of the current was much worse than I expected and at one point my boots filled up with water and my legs came away from under me and I hung on to the rope for dear life, I was not a happy bunny and swore rather loudly. Hopefully my guides didn’t quite understand but they kept repeating ‘Tranquillo! Tranquillo!’ as they pushed my legs back down to the floor. Finally they got me across and placed me on the river bank, I have to confess I was nearly a bit sick but managed to keep it in, I’m not good with water and this wasn’t a whole lot of fun. Still, I’d survived and although a bit wet, I was happy it was all over and could head to camp and some dry clothes
The calm before the storm
Post lunch on day 2 and as we set out it was all lovely and flat and sunny, then the heavens opened...
Photo courtesy of Ian Townsend.
and a bed. Then Carole pops up, arghh! She hadn’t gone to camp but had waited for us, all my dreams of a bed were going to turn to dust, arggh!!
Thankfully everyone got across the river in one peace and we trudged in boots full of water to the next camp, as we entered the camp we found the rest of our group and to our absolute delight they had saved us some bunk beds, I was so happy, these small things matter in the jungle! Dry clothes, a beer, a bit of taking our friend Nicola’s name (your ears must have been burning that night Nicola!) in vain for suggesting the walk and it was time for bed, I slept well that night.
On waking the next morning, it was time to finally seek out the Lost City. We would spend the morning in the city before heading off after lunch back to the camp from lunch the previous day. The most exciting thing of the morning was we got to leave our backpacks in camp while we went to the city, after carrying it for two days it felt strange not to walk with it but
We have to cross that???
As the cage of death was now out of action over the Buritaca river, we were duly informed we would be wading the river rapids...
Photo Courtesy of Ian Townsend
it was rather nice. Heading out of camp after breakfast we walked along the river and then crossed to reach the foot of the 1260 steps that were to take us up to the city. The steps were a bit tricky and steep but finally we made it, woo! After the last couple of days there were times when we thought we weren’t going to make it, but we had and it felt good, although we weren’t looking too good after all that walking.
Of course there had to be some issue and as we waited for our guide to begin our tour we were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes, well some of us were, others seemed to escape with no bits whatsoever, most annoying. The city rests on the top of a long hill and has many strange stone terraces which reach up the mountain side, so we weren’t done with the steps just yet. A lot of the books describe it as the ‘Colombian Machu Picchu’ , having been to Machu Picchu I have to say that the Lost City isn’t quite as spectacular however at this point I think we all realised that is isn’t just
I was one of the first taken across the river, only took two guides and a lot of bad language from myself, a lot of 'tranquillo, tranquillo' from the guides, I nearly got washed away but I just about managed to hold on for dear life, call this a holiday....
Photo Courtesy of Ian Townsend
about the Lost City, but to sound like pretentious travelers, it is also about ‘the journey’. However it was beautiful to explore the city and compared to Machu Picchu you really did feel like you were an explorer finding something amazing deep in the jungle (yes, of course I was thinking I was in Indiana Jones, who wouldn’t?).
The guide explained lots of the history to us, to be honest I wasn’t paying too much attention, just enjoying the amazing views from the city (and fighting off mosquitoes) and we were busy patting ourselves on the back for making it that far. Sadly our time was all too short in the city and we had to head back down the steps and back to camp for lunch. As with each day, as it got closer to lunchtime it started to get cloudy and our thoughts turned to the previous day and the impending torrential rains that usually come in the afternoon. We were all too aware we would have to cross the river again and of course the Cage of Death would still be broken, hmm, we really didn’t want to cross the rapids again. We decided to depart
We made it!
After a rather traumatic afternoon the four of us managed to make it to the camp at the bottom of the Lost City (Cabana Rumualdo), the beer tasted good that night.
as soon as we could post lunch and left the rest of our group being a bit more leisurely and promised to wait at the river bank for the guide. We didn’t need to panic, as we reached the river crossing from the day before we all started to laugh as the river was about a foot high and almost like a pond, what a difference a day makes indeed, we were feeling like the worst was over now and we started to actually enjoy the walk.
We were doing our trek in five days, most of our group had decided they were doing it in four days which meant we would spend night three with them and then they would have a very long hike on the last day whereas we would stop over for one more night to break up the hike, we could have switched to four days but we decided that was not a good idea for us. We were all staying at Camp 2 (Casa Gabriel Sanchez) where we had lunch on the second day (confusing isn’t it), I liked this camp best and was pleased we had a night there. The afternoon’s walk
A most welcome sight
I'd never been so happy to see such a basic bed, thanks to our fellow tour group members for being so kind to save us some bunks so we didn't have to suffer a hammock.
was nice and we all started to actually take in the surroundings and have some fun, of course it did rain again and turned the paths into mudslides but a kindly guide cut us all a walking stick to help us navigate the slippery slopes to the camp.
On arrival we had a rest, a bit of hammock time, a nice dinner (although I did have a run in with a cockroach at the table) and all was right with the world (apart from my hair, what a mess by this point). A couple of our group were suffering with some stomach issues but the rest of them had an early start the next morning as they had 7 hours walking, whereas we got to have a bit of a lie in as we only had 3 to the next camp, finally it was relaxing. As we were getting ready for bed we spent some time looking at the night skies and also enjoying all the glow flies that were flying around the camp, feeling calm and relaxed now..
Just as everyone else had got into bed, I went around the corner of my bunk to climb the ladder
Mysterious Cities of Gold
On the trail of the treasure, the entrance to the Lost City.
Photo Courtesy of Ian Townsend
to the top bunk, just shining my torch to the floor as there was no electricity so I didn’t stub my toe and then ARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!
My worst nightmare came true, less than one metre in front of me at the bottom of the ladder, front legs raised up in anger, multiple eyes shining in the torchlight was the biggest tarantula I’ve ever had the misfortune to see. As you can imagine I screamed rather loudly and ran away, I’m a huge arachnophobe and this was pretty much one of my biggest fears in life. Naturally my caring friends all came to my rescue, well Laurie, the Australian one, thought I was overreacting but I am pleased to say when he got out of bed and took a look he did confirm it was one of the biggest ones he’d ever seen, so I wasn’t making it up. As I stood weeping in the corner the guides went past and were encouraged to deal with the situation, after a couple of minutes discussion they came to the consensus of ‘Tarántula muerta!’ and grabbed Ian’s walking stick and finished the job, sorry animal lovers but one less tarantula in this world
is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Finally I was calm enough to go to bed that night but needed a full spider check before I could get into my bunk, I didn’t sleep well that night.
By the next morning I was almost wishing we were on the four day hike but as one of the group was led out of camp on a mule as he was so ill, I thought it was probably not a good idea for us to rush, at least the Tarantula Killer stick was with us and could hopefully ward off any other stray spiders. Our fourth day was a gentle walk to Camp 1 and as all the young and fit people had gone off we were able to take it at our own pace which meant we got to enjoy the walk a lot more and got to have a nice swim again at the first camp and a bit of a rest in the afternoon, it was finally feeling a bit like a holiday.
Day five and we had a long uphill in the morning but finally we made it out of the jungle in one
Map of the Lost City
Not that lost then...
piece, just, headed back to the starting point and waited for our ride to Santa Marta to pick up our stuff then head to the airport to catch a flight to Bogota. It was certainly a sense of achievement to complete the walk and we looked rather a sight as we got on the plane to Bogota that night but we made it to the hotel just in time to have a good moan at Nicola for making us go on it in the first place.
The following day was the wedding which was the whole reason we’d all made the trip to Colombia in the first place, Cath and Hector’s big day. Thankfully it didn’t start until the afternoon so those of us who had trekked had time to scrub up and try to make ourselves look half decent. The wedding bus was coming to pick us up early afternoon so we had a few hours to work the magic and prepare for the main event. The wedding was taking place in a venue on the outskirts of Bogota in a beautiful hacienda style place. The ceremony was taking place outside on the lawn and luckily the weather
Buy this man a beer
Our guide who helped me across the river rapids and then later on in the trip was to save me once again..
kept fine as the happy couple shared their vows in both English and Spanish, the bride looked amazing and the ceremony was lovely.
Drinks were served after on the lawn and included a special beer made for the groom and some Aguadiente cocktails, aguadiente is the local specialty and is rather like Pernod or other aniseed drinks and is lethal..
Dinner started off in a very civilised manner, accompanied by many different styles of Colombian music, the first dance was lovely and then the spirits started to flow. Suddenly it was ‘Crazy Hour’, I believe a Colombian custom but everything seemed to go a bit mad, hats and masks were brought out, strange dancers In weird costumes and way, way too much Aguadiente was passed around, it is rude not to drink when offered it I believe. It was mucho fun and a great party enjoyed by all, however I wasn’t enjoying it so much the next morning, that aguadiente takes no prisoners.
The next day got off to a slow start, well for me anyway, we decided a gentle stroll around the local area and a visit to a food fair was more than enough activity for
Where's Indiana Jones??
All the fault of those movies that I found myself lost in the jungle.
one day. We walked to a local park, came across a chocolate and coffee exhibition and then went to the food fair, in some part of Bogota, to be honest, I wasn’t paying much attention and just following the crowds so I’m not overly sure what area we were in. Still we managed to try the BBC in the evening (Bogota Beer Company) even though we were quite subdued.
The next day was mine and Ian’s final day whereas the rest still had some holiday to go but we had one last day with most of us going on a day trip to Guatavita and The Salt Mines of Nemocón outside of Bogota. We started off with a lovely breakfast of cheese arepas and coffee before heading off to Guatavita. Strangely Guatavita is mostly closed on a Monday and so we just had a walk around the town, it is another town rebuilt on higher ground after a valley is flooded to make a reservoir, they seem to do that a lot in Colombia. Then we went to the Salt Mines of Nemocón, a less touristy place compared to the Salt Cathedral (also close to Bogota) according to our
Where could they lead?
guide. It wasn’t very busy and was really pretty to walk around, I enjoy a good mine and wasn’t disappointed, especially as they had just finished filming ‘Los 33’ (the story of the 33 Chilean miners rescued in 2010) in there so lots of the props were still around and made for an interesting exhibition. Stopping off for the most ridiculous meat feast on the way back to Bogota our time in Colombia was coming to an end and we had to think about heading to the airport and the flight home, I did manage to get some Ron from Duty Free as a small consolation prize.
Colombia is a fascinating, beautiful, welcoming and fun place and I’m very pleased I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding there and thus I made the effort to visit the country. It was a fantastic holiday and I would recommend anyone to go over and visit and if you are lucky you might even meet Ron…
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